Nobody wins here. Nobody looks good.
That’s what happens when a team and a player it drafted in the first round only last season cannot agree on the most fundamental thing a team and any player must mutually embrace: What position the guy is going to play.
Seems Minkah Fitzpatrick is convinced he’s best suited to play one position — perhaps nickel cornerback — and that would give him a chance to master it so well that he’d live up to that first-round draft pick the Dolphins used on him.
But the Dolphins haven’t seen it that way under the current coaching staff. They asked Fitzpatrick to learn six positions — strong safety, free safety, nickel cornerback, boundary corner, weak side linebacker and strong side linebacker — during training camp, and have moved him around like a chess piece to sacrifice over here in order to assure a checkmate over there.
This is their grand plan for a second-year player trying to learn his second defensive system.
So Fitzpatrick, frustrated by the team’s inability to put him in a spot where he can thrive, wants out. He wants to be traded.
And it’s out there now. It’s public. It has gone viral.
And the team, frustrated that its public, was busy managing the public relations crisis Friday afternoon by, get this, saying all its attention is on Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. Even when we all know the Dolphins are more than willing to listen to offers from teams now interested in Fitzpatrick and have already talked to several, including the Dallas Cowboys.
This is messy, folks.
Because this speaks poorly of, well, everybody.
That’s how it is when a player everyone in the organization seemed proud of until training camp opened doesn’t want to be on your team. That’s how it is when someone who obviously doesn’t want to be in your locker room, is right there, every day, talking to other players — a living, breathing example of what happens when things go sideways.
“I don’t think it’s unusual,” coach Brian Flores said Friday of the situation. “I think Minkah’s a good player. We’ve talked about his role all week. I think he’s going to be a big part of the game plan. I think he’s going to go out there and play well, to be honest with you.
“I’ve coached for a while. I’ve gone through this a little bit before. The guy who comes to mind is Patrick Chung. He was in New England with me. He left and went to Philly. He didn’t like the way things were going there in New England, went to Philly, left and came back. And that whole thing turned around. So this is not my first go-around with a situation like this. That turned out well for Patrick.”
Flores even suggested all the damage done can be patched by, not tangible solutions, but the passing of time.
“Things change. Quickly,” he said. “We know that to be the case in this league. We’ll just see how this thing shakes out.”
This is my read on that: Flores was saying all the right things to make sure the Cowboys and the other teams interested in Fitzpatrick remain believe the Dolphins are not desperate to trade the player.
This all feels like work to improve Miami’s chances of getting good compensation for Fitzpatrick more than work to resolve the actual issue.
That leads me to this: There’s coaching stubbornness at play here.
Look, the Dolphins invested heavily in Fitzpatrick in the 2018 draft. So it’s up to the new coaches to make it work. Good coaches understand their players and if a player has too much on his plate — like having to learn six positions — it’s logical to pare back on what he’s asked to do.
That, of course, would require a coach to choose his player over his scheme or system or philosophy.
Don Shula — remember him? — went to Super Bowls running the football. And he went to a Super Bowl throwing the football. And he was smart enough to know when his talent was suited for one, and then changed when it became best suited for the other.
So isn’t it incumbent on coaches to mold themselves to the talents of their players instead of the other way around?
“I think, that’s an interesting question,” Flores said. “So, in a team sport you do what’s best for the team. That’s kind of where I’m at on that. Yes, that would be the goal for every coach to put a player you see at his best position. I think that’s where we have all our players and we’ll continue to make those decisions that we feel are the best decisions for this team.”
Here’s the best decision for the team: Make it work for Fitzpatrick until he is traded — something I believe will happen.
As for the player himself, he’s kind of gotten a black eye from this episode. And everyone sees that, too.
The fact is Fitzpatrick came to the Dolphins with a pristine draft reputation.
Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl and an 18-year NFL scout prior to that, chimed in on Fitzpatrick when news of this fiasco became public. He called Fitzpatrick “one of the cleanest prospects in the past decade.”
And among Fitzpatrick’s traits, Nagy pointed out his size, strength, athleticism, high IQ, toughness, competitiveness, durability, grittiness, versatility, productivity, work ethic, off-field reputation and leadership.
Except Fitzpatrick’s leadership has him asking out after one training camp, preseason and regular-season game? He’s supposed to be part of the rebuild for this team but apparently wants no part of the tough times ahead.
It’s not a good look for Fitzpatrick. And, in this saga, he has plenty of company.